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Featured School Psychology

Autism Awareness

August 10, 2017

Maybe this year you had John in your classroom, and he has autism.  John struggled to express his emotions, screamed when the class schedule changed, flapped his hands when he was excited or nervous, and only ate fruit snacks at lunch.  Next year you might meet Sally, a little girl who has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.  Sally loves all the Toy Story movies and often repeats dialogue verbatim.  When other students come up to Sally she only talks to them about Toy Story and ignores them when they bring up other topics.  When you go up to help Sally she does not look you in the eyes and when you touched her hand she quickly drew it in and screamed “that hurt!” Thinking back into your childhood your remember David who came in during reading class but never spoke, and he often rocked back and forth in his chair.  David always had a toy car with him. He often spun the wheels over and over next to his eyes.

From reading this you can probably tell that all three students struggle with social skills, sensory input, communication, repetitive movements or restricted interests.  However, the way these similar characteristics are displayed varied greatly between John, Sally, and David.  This is why it is referred for as a spectrum.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, is used to diagnose several conditions, including Autism Spectrum.  The DSM-5 notes that individuals with autism spectrum will have deficits in social communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviors and/or restricted interests.  The definition expands on specific ways these deficits can present in an individual.  For example, an individual with autism may have repetitive motor movements, difficulty with changes in routine, fixated areas of interest, or over or under reactions to sensory stimuli.  BUT someone with autism does not have to display all of those weaknesses.

We can see this by remembering John, Sally, and David.  All three struggled with communicating but both John and Sally could use words while David only had nonverbal communication abilities.  Sally is fixed on Toy Story while David rocks back and forth and enjoys repetitively spinning his car’s wheels.  John is experiencing difficulty with sensory input causing him to only eat fruit snacks at lunch while Sally is very sensitive to touch.

Many signs of autism are present between 2 and 3 years of age, and early identification and intervention are vital.  The CDC has estimated that around 1 in 68 children have autism with males being more affected than females.  Since it is on a spectrum some individuals with autism are nonverbal or have an intellectual disability.  However, some individuals on the autism spectrum after an average or higher IQ and can verbally communicate with a vast vocabulary.

The exact cause of autism is unknown, but research indicates there are genetic and environmental factors.  It does run in families indicating genetics can increase a risk.  Some environmental factors include older parents, pregnancy or birth complications, or pregnancies that are within a year of each other.  The majority of scientific research does not support that vaccines are linked with causing autism.  Sometimes when a child is diagnosed with autism they also received vaccinations around the same time.

It is important for all people who are around children to know early warning signs.  Around 6 months of age if your child is not smiling or displaying positive expressions towards others.  They should also be making eye contact with others.  Around 12 months of age a child who is not babbling, does not attempt to use gestures to communicate, and does not respond to their name is showing indicators.  Around 24 months if your child does not use at least two-word phrases or has lost any speech, social skills, or communication abilities they are exhibiting possible signs of autism.  Even though there are many early warning signs sometimes children enter school who have not been diagnosed or even evaluated for autism.  This is why it is important for educators to continue to look for warning signs to be advocates for children.

If you are working with a child who you think may have autism spectrum please follow your schools referral process for identification of students who may have a disability.  Often this means reaching out to the school psychologist, a special education teacher, or a school administrator.  If a child you are working with already has a diagnosis make sure you work with their parents and school team members to ensure they are receiving appropriate interventions and accommodations as necessary.  Since autism is on a spectrum the amount of support and intervention will vary for each student as it should be individualized.

There is still so much more to learn about the characteristics and strengths and weaknesses related to autism.  This post is meant to raise awareness and inspire readers to learn more about autism.  John, Sally, and David are meant to help bring an actual child’s life to mind and not to offend or upset anyone.

Culture Morale School Psychology


July 17, 2017

Everyone wants to be happy!  We are always looking for new ways to increase our well-being and happiness.  Some things we don’t have control over, but one thing we always have in our control is our outlook.  We can spend our time being jealous or negative or we can be grateful for the positives in our lives. This will not only change how we feel emotionally but can have physical benefits, like a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure.

Just like anything else it takes practice to incorporate regular gratitude exercises into your life.  Start simple- every morning write or say 5 things for which you are grateful.  You could keep a gratitude journal by your bed or favorite chair.  There are apps on your smart phone made for tracking gratitude.

Remember you can start with simple things like being grateful for a home to live in, a bed to sleep in, family, your job, the shoes on your feet, etc.  You can create affirmations where you repeat a phrase(s) a few times a day related to something you’re grateful for.  For example, I like to say “I am thankful for the opportunity to impact lives of children.” You can extend your positive gratitude outlook with others by making sure to thank others and let them know you appreciate their efforts.  It can be as simple as letting the barista know how good your coffee was or letting someone know how kind they were to open the door for you.  It’s really just putting a little more detail into your normal “thank you.”

Sometimes I like to take an alternative look on gratitude.  One of my favorite sayings is there are always pros and cons.  For those cons in your life, if you’re creative enough, you can find an alternative way to be grateful for them.  For example, I’m a very anxious person which I hate.  However, my anxiety has also caused me to be very hard working and a good planner.  For those reasons I am grateful that my anxiety has been part of my journey.  Maybe you hate how quiet you are, but that makes you a good listener.  Maybe you don’t like something about your appearance but that’s lead to you using humor to make friends easier.  Maybe you get angry too easily but that makes you passionate and an advocate for others.  Whatever your cons are try to view them in a more grateful manner.

If you’d like to help your students gain this valuable life skill, check out the Gratitude Works Program through the National Association of School Psychologists:

You can start by simply having your students write letters or draw a picture for someone for which they are grateful.  Students can verbally share with a partner each day something they are grateful for.  For older students consider gratitude journals.  You can even start a gratitude club or have a whole assembly to celebrate gratitude!

I am grateful you took time out of your busy and important life to read this.  I hope it helps you in your daily life, and if it does please pass on your gratitude to others!


School Psychology

Processing Speed

July 11, 2017

“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Time yourself while you solve this Code:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
s i p e n r c g o d


3 6 9 7 4 1 1 2 5 8      1 3 4 4 10

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _       _ _ _ _ _


How long did it take you to solve the code?  If you correctly solved it, you know now the cognitive processing area we are going to discuss this month!

Processing speed is how quickly you take in information, understand it, and formulate a response.  It applies to visual and auditory information.  Processing speed requires many aspects including, planning, persistence, motivation, motor coordination, and ability to perform in timed conditions. This area cannot be built with intervention.

Individuals who have a weakness or deficit in processing speed will typically work at a slower rate, even on simple or rote tasks.  This makes normally automatic tasks more demanding and time-consuming.  For example, copying from the board, finishing assignments, and taking notes can be challenging.  It is important to note that attention is necessary for processing speed to occur.

What might a student with a weakness in processing speed struggle with?

  • Recognizing simple visual patterns
  • Scanning visual information
  • Making simple decisions
  • Basic math calculations
  • Working during timed conditions
  • Reading silently to understand
  • Copying words or sentences

How can this impact academic achievement?

Students with a deficit in processing speed may have difficulty accessing content, processing information, and/or responding.  Executive functioning (e.g., planning, goal setting, time management, organization, etc.) skills may be negatively impacted. Any fluency tasks will be negatively impacted due to the difficulty with working quickly and efficiently.

What strategies can be used in the classroom?

  • Focus on quality rather than quantity and speed. For students who struggle with processing speed, long tasks are extremely difficult and can lead to frustration or boredom.
  • Students with a processing speed deficit will need extra time to show you what they can do
  • You can shorten assignments, especially repetitive work. Try having them complete only the even or odd items.
  • Decrease the amount of writing and copying the student is required to do, especially if the purpose of the lesson is on another subject (e.g., science, math, etc.).
  • A student could take some work home but don’t burden them or penalize them due to their processing speed weakness.
  • Reduce the amount of homework if appropriate
  • Provide copies of notes
  • Give the student a chance to review a question before asking them during an oral discussion
  • To support reading comprehension have the student orally paraphrase information often


I hope this was a quick and speedy overview of processing speed!

Remember don’t give up no matter how long it takes! Sometimes it’s the journey, not the destination.


Culture Morale School Psychology

R Word and ID

July 3, 2017

A person who has an intellectual disability has significantly below average intelligence and difficulty with basic life skills.

The majority of people have an IQ score of 85-115, falling within the average range where 100 is perfectly average.  A person who has an intellectual disability will have an IQ that is 70 or less falling in the extremely low range.  Another way to say basic life skills is adaptive behavior which will also fall at 70 or less.  These behaviors help us take care of ourselves and function independently in different environments.  It includes skills like being able to feed yourself, dress yourself, communicate your needs, complete household chores, complete a job application, etc.

It is important to remember that just because a person has an intellectual disability does not mean they cannot do any of these things or that they cannot learn. 

People who have intellectual disabilities are still people, like us, who have their own strengths and weaknesses.  However, these students will likely need more supports and more time to learn.  Their progress will likely be much slower than their peers, and at some point, they may reach a level of understanding and have difficulty increasing knowledge or skill in particular areas.

While their IQ and adaptive behavior scores are below 70, there is still a continuum of abilities below this range.  For example, you may have met someone who has an intellectual disability who has a job, is able to live at home with minimal support, and can communicate well verbally.  You may have also met someone with an intellectual disability who is nonverbal, cannot read and needs help with basic skills like eating and using the restroom.  This is why it is so important to get to know the individual!

An intellectual disability can be co-morbid, meaning it can go along with another condition more frequently than by chance.

A person with Autism may also have an intellectual disability or someone with Down Syndrome may have an intellectual disability.  However, someone with an intellectual disability may not have another condition just like someone with Autism may not have an intellectual disability.  This is another great example of why you have to get to know the individual.

Sometimes the term intellectual disability causes confusion because Mental Retardation is the older out dated term.  The word “retardation” was, unfortunately, used in a derogatory manner causing the need for a more representative term to be used.  If you learn nothing else from this post, please please please do not use the r-word anymore.  Even if you are making what you think is a lighthearted joke to someone – don’t use the r-word.  It can cause pain, anger, and other negative feelings.  There is a wonderful campaign to help end this use.  If you would like more information on “Spread the Word to End the Word,” please visit:

People who are intellectually disabled play a vital role in our society and within their own families. 

They are still capable of learning and making a positive difference in the world.  They can achieve great things when people believe in them and give them appropriate support and tools to maximize their strengths!

*Disclaimer- if anything in this post has offended you and caused you emotional discomfort, please know that was not my intention.  My goal in writing this post is to raise awareness and acceptance to help educators better understand disability categories included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Please feel free to comment if you have any recommendations on how to better accomplish this task.

School Psychology

Fluid Reasoning

June 29, 2017

The next processing area we are going to learn about is Fluid Reasoning.  Along with comprehension knowledge, this area is often thought of as one of the most important processing areas of our cognitive abilities.

So what is fluid reasoning? 

It is our ability to be a flexible thinker and problem solver.  When we think of general intelligence these are often the skills we are considering.  Fluid reasoning involves the mental abilities we use when faced with a novel task that we do not know how to automatically solve.

What can a deficit in fluid reasoning look like?

If a student struggles in this area, they will likely struggle with reasoning, understanding instruction and directions, generalizing previously learned information, and solving new problems.  A weakness in fluid reasoning can harm the ability to understand relationships and to make connections between background knowledge and new information. These students may struggle to see the big picture and to be a good problem solver.  It can lead to an impairment in understanding others’ opinions and comprehending how things work.

How does it impact the major academic areas? 

Students with a weakness in fluid reasoning will struggle to come to conclusions when reading.  It will negatively impact their reading comprehension skills. In math, these students will struggle to tackle math word problems due to multiple steps.  In writing, organizing and sequencing out their thoughts will be a struggle.  Their difficulty with comprehension may negatively impact their ability to express their thoughts in writing.

How can we support these students in the classroom? 

These students need explicit instruction on multiple strategies to solve problems.  Clearly defining the relationship or connection between two aspects in a concrete manner is essential.  Allow these students to sort information into categories.  When you demonstrate skills, clearly state your thought process and model how to complete the steps.  Next, allow the student to practice the procedure and give them feedback. Graphic organizers can help students understand the whole and how to break into down into its parts.  Pair visual and verbal information to ensure their learning opportunity is enhanced.  Break their work up into small manageable steps so they do not get overwhelmed.  When giving the student independent work, make sure they have a few examples to help guide them.

Hopefully, this brief introduction to fluid reasoning will help you problem solve more fluidly for your students who may struggle with this processing area.

Featured School Psychology

Trial and Error

June 19, 2017

You’ve probably all heard the saying if at first you don’t succeed, try again.  While I’m sure that’s true at any point in your career, I feel it’s more applicable in the beginning.  I remember when I was in graduate school I was full of all of these ideas, hopes, and dreams of what all I could do as a school psychologist.  I was almost about to burst in anticipation!  When guest speakers would come into class they would caution us about doing too much in our first few years.  They recommended we just put our efforts into getting to know the teachers, staff, students, and individual needs in our school.  Just get great at the basics is what they would tell us.  Still in my optimistic and naive brain I thought I can do it all my first year!

In my first year I did do a couple extras, but I quickly found out just how much effort and time doing the basics really required.  As my second year of being a fully licensed school psychologist on my own is coming to an end, I am more realistic about what I can truly fit in to my day.  However, I am more confident in the basics and now they aren’t taking quite as much time.  I am optimistic in the future that I can slowly add and revise my practice and services each year.  For example, next year I plan to start a life skills class at one of my school’s after school program.  I also want to create more professional development presentations for my teachers and staff even though I get so nervous to speak publicly!

All of this is to say your first few years are all trial and error, and I believe that’s normal.  Be kind to yourself- don’t give up and don’t beat yourself down.  I’d rather do the basics well and cautiously than to over extended myself during my first few years. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice.  Sometimes, especially during the first year, it can be tempting to want to appear like you know it all, but the only way to grow and improve is to learn and ask questions.

The first few years, at least for me, were filled with ups and downs.  It’s important to not let the down times burn you out.  You need to learn to accept that even with the best intentions you will make some mistakes, but rather than beating yourself up over it- learn from it. Use it to prepare for the next time that situations arises.  Also, don’t forget you are a human with a personal life.  You have to take care of yourself and do the things you enjoy aside from your job in order to be the best you at work.

While real life is often very different than what you imagined, try to never lose sight of why you are doing this.  What got you started? What was your goal?  What did you dream about? What type of impact did you want to make?  If you stay connected to this, then you can make small manageable changes along the way to get you closer to this dream you’ve envisioned for so long.

School Psychology

Translator Tips

June 9, 2017

Living in the melting pot of America creates many exciting opportunities to work with students who come from different cultures and who speak different languages.  However, this communication barrier can cause some obstacles.   I have worked with many families who only speak Spanish.  My main life regret is not continuing on with my second language of Spanish in high school and into college.  I am so envious of bilingual colleagues who can easily communicate with these families when I’m left to just smile and nod.

Luckily, I’ve also had the chance to work with many great interpreters.  Sometimes this too can be awkward and hard to navigate so I wanted to share some tips to help ease the communication glitch.

Always look at the person you are addressing.  If you are talking to your student’s mother, look her in the eyes- don’t look at the interpreter and say “Can you tell her this or ask her that.”  Just speak as you normally would if she spoke your language. You will have to periodically stop to allow the interpreter time to translate before their working memory becomes overloaded.

If you are going to be discussing a difficult topic or information with very specific vocabulary, it can be helpful to meet with the interpreter first to make sure they understand the type of conference or meeting they will be attending.  For example, if you need to talk to a parent about a child’s behavioral problems it might be helpful to give the interpreter a heads up.  Often your interpreter has culture-specific knowledge and can help guide you in the best way to present this information.  They can help you understand the perspective the parent might be coming from and avoid offending them.  If there are specific documents the interpreter needs to translate, be sure to give them adequate time to review them before being put on the spot in front of everyone.

Don’t forget to account for added time.  You will need to at least double the time because everything has to be translated back and forth between two languages.  While everything is being translated into their native language, please remember they still may understand more than you think in English.  Just as you may understand a few words they are saying in their native language. This may depend or be related to their level of acculturation.  If they have recently immigrated they will likely be more unfamiliar and more uncomfortable in their new culture; however, if they have lived here for 20 years they will be more accustomed to their new environment.

The interpreter’s primary job is to translate everything everyone is saying back and forth.  This is why it is very important to be quiet and respectful when someone is speaking.  If the interpreter is translating something to a parent don’t strike up a conversation with someone else.  Think how that would make you feel if you were in a room full of people you couldn’t understand, and they start whispering in front of you and no one ever explains.

Use as many visuals as you can to help support and convey your message.  If you are comfortable you might want to greet and end the meeting with an appropriate phrase from their native language.

Instead of asking do you have any questions, ask them what questions they do have.  Sometimes people from different cultures are very respectful of school personnel and do not want to question them.  By asking them what questions they do have you are allowing them to comfortably ask away.

I hope these tips translate into helping you during your next meeting with an interpreter!